Additional reporting by Leah Malone, Mohamed Naahii and Zaheena Rasheed
Special Operations Police have surrounded the Elections Commission (EC) secretariat with orders from Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz to take over the building and ballot papers should it proceed with holding an election on Saturday.
The Commissioner’s order follows the EC’s insistence yesterday that it was constitutionally mandated to hold the run-off within 21 days of the first round, in spite of an order from the Supreme Court to suspend the election indefinitely.
Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News “We will not be able to hold elections without support from the police. The police will stop any election preparation activity.”
Thowfeek said the EC members had been met by two officers “to get our assurance the preparation activities have been stopped.”
At time of press police had cordoned off the area around the Elections Commission and ordered journalists at the scene to leave the area. An EC official told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that EC staff were not being allowed to enter the building.
Following the EC’s meeting this afternoon prior to the arrival of police, during which it met with Commonwealth election observers and Indian High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare, EC staff issued a brief statement to the media.
“The Supreme Court has ordered security services to prevent any effort to hold the election tomorrow,” the EC statement read.
“It is the responsibility of this commission to conduct, manage and facilitate all elections and public referendums and ensure that all elections and public referendums are conducted freely and fairly, without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption and ensure that citizens are able to fully exercise the right to vote.
“The commission does not believe that such an atmosphere presently exists in the Maldives,” the statement read.
It concluded by stating that the EC will announce a date for the second round run-off.
After the building was barricaded by police, Elections Commission President Thowfeek and EC members issued a longer statement:
As article 111(a) of the constitution of the Republic of the Maldives states that if no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election must be held within twenty one days after the first election, this commission announced on September 14, 2013 that the second round of the 2013 presidential election shall be held on September 28, 2013 and made all preparations necessary to hold the election on that date.
However, of the state institutions whose assistance the Elections Commission requires to hold the election, the Ministry of Education took restrictive measures and said it would not provide premises to place ballot boxes and release employees who work as election officials, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it would not offer cooperation and threatened to arrest commission members, and the Ministry of Finance Treasury said it would not release funds and imposed restrictive measures. Further, the Maldives Police Service said it would not cooperate and ceased providing security requested by the commission for the second round of the election. And Assistant Commissioner of Police Hassan Habeeb called the chair of the Elections Commission on the night of September 26, 2013 and warned that [police] would not allow the election to take place.
Furthermore, we note with regret that some political parties have threatened to set ballot boxes on fire and death threats have been made against Elections Commission members, staff, and officials involved in the voting process. The commission believes that as a result, numerous irreparable damages will be caused to the general public, the Elections Commission and the state.
The Supreme Court order 06/SC-SJ/2013 (September 26, 2013) instructed and ordered the security forces of the Maldives under article 237 of the constitution to immediately put a stop to any preparations by the Election Commission for voting in the second round of the presidential election held on September 7, 2013. And police have now closed the Elections Commission office to deny entry to members, staff and any outside parties.
As article 170(a) of the constitution which states the responsibilities and powers of the Elections Commission stipulates that it is the legal responsibility of this commission to ensure the proper exercise of the right to vote and that all elections and public referendums are conducted freely and fairly, without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption, and since the commission does not believe such an atmosphere presently exists in the Maldives, we announce that voting in the second round of the presidential election scheduled for September 28, 2013 has been postponed.
Thowfeek meanwhile appeared on Raajje TV and stated that the commission members have been ordered to cancel all meetings with foreign delegates. Minivan News understands that this was being negotiated at time of press.
A Minivan News journalist inside the Elections Commission building said that as of 10:30pm the police outside had not entered the Elections Commission, apart from EC bodyguards and the officers negotiating with EC members.
MDP Chairperson Moosa Manik in statement expressed concern over the security of the Election Commission’s database should police be allowed access to the Commission’s premises.
Minivan News understands that as of midnight, ballot papers remained in the custody of elections officials.
Thowfeek left the Elections Commission shortly after midnight. He told Minivan News: “I feel disappointed after working so hard, to have to drop the second round. It is a big loss to the country.”
“We just have to wait for the Supreme Court response. We don’t know what their verdict will be. From Sunday, we will release all the temporary staff and we will rehire when we know when the run-off will take place,” he said.
The police order issued by Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz specifically instructs police to:
- Stop anyone who disobeys Supreme Court order 2013/SC-VA-J/02 and tries to proceed with voting on 28 September 2013”
- oversee security of ballot boxes for the 2013 presidential election at their designated locations, and stop anyone from transporting these materials [in an] attempt to start voting
- take over the main elections commission, ballot papers if the [EC] decides to or attempts to hold the second round of presidential election on 28 September 2013, and oversee the security of polling booths and control the access to [polling stations] and ensure materials cannot be transported elsewhere for voting
- As soon as this order is released, the head of the police officers deployed to the islands to oversee security of voting, must meet with the elections commission’s focal point and present Supreme Court’s 2013 SC-VA-J/02 and 2013/SC-SJ?06, and inform them it is against the law to proceed with a second round of polling on 28 September 2013, and advise them not to do so, and inform them the police will stop them if they attempt to do so
- Inform the police commissioner immediately if a member of the Elections Commission has been detained for disobeying Supreme Court order 2013/SC-VA-J/02
The orders also apply to resorts and industrial islands, request police to “respect the human rights” of those detained, and use “minimal force” in detaining those who disobey the Supreme Court’s order.